Boat gadgets for recreational boaters
13th May 2022 Elena Manighetti
If you own an older boat and you don’t want to invest lots of time and money into installing new gear on board and connecting it to the batteries, boat gadgets are an economical, convenient option to upgrade your technology on board.
Simply purchase a piece of kit and take it with you when you get out boating. You won’t waste any time figuring out and completing a complex installation and you’ll be able to take the gadgets with you if and when you upgrade vessels. Plus, you run no risk of creating a fire hazard by not wiring things in properly.
Let’s look at the best portable gadgets you can get for your boat.
Digital handheld anemometer
Knowing the wind speed in real time is very important, as it allows you to monitor the weather and maneuver better at a marina. Yet, only boats of a certain size come with a mounted anemometer. If you don’t have one installed on your motorboat or smaller sailboat, you can simply get a digital handheld anemometer.
This little instrument is the size of a satellite device or a mobile phone from the 90s and is often composed of a fan, an LCD screen, and a few buttons. The wind moves the fan, so the device can take a reading, based on how fast the blades move. Many models operate via alkaline batteries, although some come with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, too
Not all portable anemometers are accurate. Cheaper models will likely be less precise, but don’t choose just based on price - make sure to read plenty of reviews before you buy yours.
Portable fish finder
All serious anglers need a fish finder. With portable and more affordable models out on the market, it’s getting easier to buy one.
There are various kinds of portable fish finders - some are handheld, some are mountable, while others are castable.
Handheld ones typically require you to install a transducer on the transom of the boat. Mountable fish finders allow you to immerse part of the instrument in the water and clamp it onto the side of your boat, rather than installing a transducer. Castable ones sink with your smartphone via an app.
Make sure to check how the fish finder works before you add it to your shopping basket - find out if the transducer needs installing and in which conditions you can use the instrument and at what speeds. For example, with a castable or mountable fish finder, you’ll need to find a spot you like the look of, slow down, and then put it in the water.
These aren’t specifically designed for boating, but they do come in handy on boat trips and some are waterproof. Simply charge them at home and take them with you when you go boating, so you can connect them to your smartphone and listen to some tunes while having lunch or sunbathing.
Remember to keep the volume down, as noise travels through the water and you will disturb other boaters.
Dog boat ladder or ramp
Make it easier for your furry friend to get onboard after a refreshing swim by getting a dog boat ladder or ramp. It will save you the trouble of trying to lift them onto your vessel, or having to get into the water to push them up, which can be dangerous. Also, your dog will be able to go for a paddle even when it’s not hot enough for you to go for a swim.
Portable depth sounder
Knowing the depth, especially in an anchorage or near a reef, is essential. A handheld portable depth sounder saves you the trouble of wiring in a screen. It looks like a flashlight and uses batteries, but only comes on for about 10 seconds at a time, so it lasts a long time on a single set of batteries.
Bear in mind that a depth sounder needs a transducer to work, even if it’s handheld. Some modern devices come with a suction cup bracket for easier installation.
A nice meal in a beautiful anchorage is one of the biggest pleasures of the boat life. You can of course carry with you a camping gas stove with a windshield. However, nothing beats a boat barbie in the sun. These are typically mounted on a rail at the transom, so they “float” above the water. You can get a charcoal or gas one.
Handheld VHF radio with AIS receiver
Installing AIS on your vessel can be time consuming and expensive, which isn’t ideal for weekend boaters who own smaller craft. You can now get a handheld VHF with an integrated AIS receiver.
Of course, such a gadget doesn’t offer all the features an AIS unit would, but it’s a great economical alternative for recreational boaters. You can call, plot, or navigate to AIS targets and even set an alarm to go off when the target reaches the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) or a set time to CPA.
A handheld VHF charges off the mains via a standard plug, so you can simply charge it at home before a boat trip.
Charging power bank
Installing or upgrading a power system on a boat takes time and a decent investment. If you just go out on short trips, why not try out a big charging power bank? They are used for camping and come in a variety of specs. You simply charge it at home and then you can plug your phone, camera, laptop, and more into it. The best thing about a power bank is that you can use it on land, too - for a party, a picnic, a camping trip, and more.
Bear in mind that most battery banks aren’t made for the marine environment, so make sure they stay dry. They’re a great power solution for occasional boaters.
Portable solar panels power station
Another way to get around a complex power system installation is carrying portable solar panels. A system is made up of a number of panels, which connect to a power bank. The panels charge the battery when the sun hits them and they are wired in. You can always pre-charge the battery at home and recharge it via the panels as you deplete the power on your trip.
If you plan to go on a longer trip and don’t want to carry a lot of clothes, you can get a wash bag. This is a dry bag with a clear window, which allows you to wash a few small pieces of clothing inside it. It’s like a mini manual portable washing machine. Simply put the clothes in the bag, add water and eco-friendly laundry detergent, and shake it for as long as you can. It’s a great solution if you just need to wash swimsuits, t-shirts, and underwear.
Some full-time cruisers use a bucket and a suction pump in a similar way, so they can wash more and bigger clothes at once. In this case, you’ll need to store the bucket and pump on board, though.
Always check what gadgets are available on the market before planning a complex install on your vessel. Chances are that there’s a simpler, cheaper solution to your needs. It’s also helpful to keep an eye on camping gadgets, as these need to be portable and weather resistant.
Whatever gear you're thinking of buying, make sure to check verified reviews before choosing a specific product. Not all gadgets are high quality or accurate. Ask around the dock to see if anyone bought something similar and if it works well.